Environmental pollution is one of the most serious threats facing all life on earth. It can be defined as the contamination of physical and biological components of the earth/atmospheric system to such extent that normal environmental processes are adversely affected (e.g. water, soil and air). Furthermore, a 2017 study by the World Health organisation (WHO) indicate that 80% diseases are waterborne. Industrialisation, discharge of domestic waste, radioactive waste, population growth, excessive use of pesticides, fertilizers and leakage from water tanks are major sources of water pollution. Humans are therefore the main culprits and pollute water
Safe and readily available water is a primary human need as well as daily necessity, therefore it is directly linked to public health. Each person on earth requires at least 20 to 50 liters of clean and safe water on a daily basis for drinking, cooking or hygienic purposes. Water is also used for recreational purposes (e.g. swimming) and other activities – thus it is of high importance that water is safe and not contaminated.
Water pollution is defined as the contamination of water bodies like lakes, rivers, oceans and all ground water sources, usually as a result of human activities. Polluted water pose a serious threat to the health of humans, animals and plants. If humans do not put the necessary precautionary measures in place to prepare food, or accidentally ingests polluted water while swimming in a lake, lagoon or swimming pool, they can fall seriously ill and in some cases loose their life. Pollution also poses a serious threat to ecosystems by destroying it partly or completely, which often times take ecosystems decades to recover to its initial healthy state.
Ingesting polluted water can have the following health effects on humans:
- Water borne illnesses – Cholera
- Rashes – Typhoid fever
- Stomach or liver illness – Gastroenteritis/ Hepatitis E
- Respiratory problems – Botulism/ Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
- Neurological problems
- If left untreated, can cause death
The role of Environmental Health Practitioners
The role of Environmental Health Practitioners (EHP) of Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) in terms of water quality (Health Professions Act 1974 (no 56 of 1974)), are as follows:
- Monitoring water quality and availability, including mapping of water source.
- Enforcement of laws and regulations related to water quality management.
- Ensuring water safety in respect of safe quality (microbiological and chemical), and accessibility to an adequate quantity for domestic use as well as in respect of the quality of water for recreational, industrial, food production and any other human and animal use.
- Ensuring that water supplies that are readily accessible to communities and to the planning, design, management and health surveillance of community water supplies, that are readily accessible to communities.
- Ensuring monitoring and effective waste water treatment and water pollution control, including the collection, treatment and disposal of sewage and other water borne waste and control of the quality of surface water (including the sea) and ground water.
- Advocacy on proper and safe water and waste water usage.
- Water sampling and testing on the field or in a laboratory.
Monthly monitoring samples at the allocated points are taken by the Municipal Health Services Unit of GRDM. Sample types include: Sea, River, Lake, Sewage (final effluent) and Potable water.
What happens to water samples?
These water samples are transported to accredited Laboratory for bacteriological analysis. The samples are respectively analysed for Coliforms, Escherichia Coli, Feacal Coliforms, Vibrio Cholerae, Vibrio parahaemolyticus just to mention a few types of analysis required by an Environmental Health Practitioner. The laboratory will send the samples results to the Environmental Health Practitioner within 1 week after the laboratory has received and analysed the sample.
After sample results have been obtained by the Environmental Health Practitioner it is his or her responsibility to ensure that the results are scrutinized and then handed over and explained to the responsible party. A monthly report is also sent to the local B – Municipality and to the council of GRDM wherein the water results are explained
If a water source has been contaminated or polluted and the water sample result proves that the sample does not comply to SANS 241 standards, and if deemed necessary, the public will be informed. The District municipality (e.g. social media, articles in local newspapers, radio, health and hygiene education by the Environmental Health Practitioners, etc.) will issue a notice of any risks or dangers regarding the water source that is polluted or contaminated and poses a threat to human life and the environment.
Water samples for chemical analysis will be transported and analysed at the Forensic Chemistry Laboratory in Cape Town. Upon receipt of sample results it is the Environmental Health Practitioners responsibility to ensure that the responsible party is informed about the sample results. A monthly report is also sent to the local B –Municipality and to the council of Garden Route District Municipality wherein the water results are explained.
Garden Route District Municipality’s Municipal Health Services Unit ensures that the role of the EHP in terms of water quality is being carried out in terms of the law and if necessary, that rectification takes place immediately.
If you are aware of any pollution activities, or would like to lodge a complaint, contact the GRDM Municipal Health Services Department at 044 – 803 1300 or send your complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org